Your First Night Dive

 

When you first decide to learn to Scuba Dive, as with any new activity you imagine yourself in future situations that in the end are quite often far from what really happens.

Perhaps seeing tropical seascapes and underwater footage on the television or some snorkel trip on holiday has compelled you to seek out training to spend extended time underwater coexisting with the colorful fishes. Your imagination may have you swimming about in waters so clear and comfortable that you imagine you are flying effortlessly, perhaps finding treasure to the astonishment of passing Disneyesque denizens. Then it's "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel, and you still have that imagination.

With a down payment for the course already on the books, maybe a visit to the lawyer to ensure that your will is up to date, you man-up, go through the training, and become a PADI Open Water diver. During the course you find out that the horrors of Shark Week are still on the TV, that it really is like flying, and that Disney may have had a hand in all this. You sign up for more training, so you can see more!

                                    Prelude

                                    Prelude

The Advanced Open Water Course teaches you the all-important skills of Underwater Navigation using a compass, and Deep Diving which provides training enabling you to descend to 100 feet. Along with these two mandatory "specialties" the course requires you to complete three more from a long list of possible underwater skills. Drift Diving for conditions with current, Dry suit diving for cold water, Ice diving which makes me shiver to just think of, and many more. Your course is probably taken with other students. Invariably while discussing the possibilities of which specialties to take as a group, it will not be long before Night Diving is mentioned.

Night Diving and the thought of it may appeal to some. Usually about 50% of any given group of divers enjoys diving at night, and you may notice that they are a little more vocal than the sane. Classes and groups can be swayed by their enthusiasm, and no doubt at some point you will find yourself watching the sun go down, and your imagination running wild about what is gonna happen on your first night dive.

            That first step is a doozy! 

            That first step is a doozy! 

It's night, it’s dark, and it's gonna be underwater. These are primal fears, and Shark Week which you have driven to the dark recesses of your mind comes roaring (swimming?) back to the fore as you stand ready to giant stride into the sea. Everything is the same as the dives you have been doing during the day, except now you have what seems to be a pitifully small flashlight, as you look out over a very large, and inky ocean.

With peer pressure and that pesky advance down payment prodding you on, you clamp down on your mouthpiece, step off the boat and let the ink close in about you. Floating in your BCD you flash your light around below sure of eminent attack from your television friends, to find that it's not dark at all! The boat is moored in about 30 feet of water over a large white sand patch, and that puny flashlight lights up the area like the full winter moon shining on a snow field. Visibility is good; you can see your dive buddies, and the reflective light dissipates any hint of claustrophobia.

Caribbean Reef Octopus

Photo- Mickey Charteris

There are two things that really stand out for me on night dives. First there is a different group of animals out at night. Octopus, urchins, lobsters and others that hide in the crevices and crannies of the reef during the day come out under cover of darkness to forage, and frolic. Meanwhile most of the reef fishes we see in the day like the Parrot fish, the Tangs and the wrasses retreat under cover for the night giving the reef a dual personality. The second startling aspect of night diving is the vibrancy, and intensity of the colors compared to the dives in daylight.

Water, being quite thick and gooey compared to air, tends to filter out or block some portions of sunlight, especially the part of the spectrum that allows you to see red colors. Even at depths of just 30 feet the corals and sponges you see during the day seem a little drab compared to those seen at night with the aid of torch that shines the full spectrum on the subject at close range. Shining your light on a large barrel sponge that is a dark brown in color by day, transforms it into a rich purple at night. Reef colors that blend together in the day’s sunlight are now distinctive and intertwining contrasts in your light's beam.

Swimming around in the ambient light is no problem. Personally I like turning my light off at times and just swim in the disco type light show provided with the beams of my dive buddies lights. It can be very surreal. With a few minutes left in the dive the plan is to get together in a group, kneel in the sand, and have all of us turn off our lights at the same time. When this is first proposed up on the boat before the dive, it is a bit of a (pardon my capitalization), WTF moment. However now as an almost one-hour veteran night diver, this is no problem. We turn our lights off.

Incredible video of a related species of the String of Pearls, and bioluminescence. Pay no attention to the Giant Squid bit. 

At first the ocean goes dark but with the white sand beneath us it is easy to discern our companion’s silhouettes, and their bubbles rising to the surface. After a few minutes the eyes become adjusted, and little winking lights start to cover the reef. Tiny pinpoints of light come on for a second or two and then fade providing defense or come-hither entreaties of different organisms. They are everywhere, and the reef sparkles in the night. A few minutes longer as our eyes become fully accustomed to the lack of light, the very water itself starts to sparkle with strings of bio-luminescence, becoming more intense with our increasing perception. These are the Strings of Pearls, a famous flashing phenomenon here on Roatan, and they can be spectacular. Always present to some degree on night dives, if you happen to be there when the conditions are right, it can seem like looking at the Milky Way on a clear dark night. For far too much information on this phenomenon; click here.

All dives have an end, and now that all the apprehension left on the surface has blown away, you find yourself part of the vocal 50%.